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“I Thought That Was Normal…” It Was Not.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said “I thought that was normal”, well….I’d have a lot of dollars.

If you’ve ever wanted to get inside the head of someone with an anxiety disorder, here’s your chance.

Let’s face it. Society makes it hard for anyone experiencing an anxiety disorder to speak up. On the other hand, the tips you find online are generally the same. A little generic without a lot of real insight.

It’s time that ended. Pull up your chair and let me tell you my story.

Over six years, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Clinical Depression. The process of being diagnosed dragged on longer than necessary because I didn’t know that things should (or could!) be different. I lived with my symptoms longer than I should’ve. I thought things were normal that, in hindsight, very clearly weren’t:

  • jumpiness like my nerves plugged into a high voltage electric socket.
  • physical pain in my stomach like a blender cranked up to full speed.
  • everlasting terror like a backpack of bricks strapped to my shoulders.
  • racing thoughts like a swarm of angry bees unleashed in my mind.
  • deep sadness like a void had sucked away the possibility of any happy emotion.

And through it all, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to feel this EVERY moment, EVERY day.

I didn’t say anything but, in an attempt to cope, I retreated.

Shrunk.

Collapsed inward to dull my emotional pain.

In the process, I began losing myself. I stopped smiling. Laughing. Engaging. Feeling.

It all began to slip away until only the barest whisper of my former self remained. When I finally found my psychiatrist, I was given the words to express what I was feeling and realize it was all very NOT normal.

I know that’s a hard story, but what does it mean for your kid?

Think about it. Outwardly, my symptoms showed up as becoming withdrawn, moody, and quiet. How would you describe those symptoms if you noticed them in your kid? We’re guessing you’d call it normal pre-teen/teen behavior, right? We all remember those years in our lives a little more vividly than we’d like; puberty is rarely kind to anyone.

Therein lies the catch.

You don’t want to rush your kid to the doctor with fears of an anxiety disorder when it’s the normal ups and downs of being a teenager. You don’t want to delay detection and treatment if it is mental illness. So what do you do?

Is my kid being a normal teenager or are these signs of mental illness?

1) Ask deeper questions.

Let’s make a pact to throw “are you ok?” out the window right now.

That question has become such a part of our social script that it’s essentially useless. How many times have you ever said “yes” in response to it even when you were dying inside? Your kid feels the same way.

It’s not that it’s a bad question. It just doesn’t go deep enough.

So, let’s swap it for asking your kid these (just not all at once)…

  • What emotion do you feel most of the day?
  • Do you ever have pain in your stomach? How often?
  • How easy is it for you to lay down and rest?
  • What are you looking forward to in the next couple of weeks?
  • What made you laugh recently?

These questions are just a starting point, a way to gauge if your kid is feeling sad, hopeless, or anxious throughout the day. I encourage you to come up with your own, tailoring them specifically for your kid.

Once you’ve started to ask them questions, what’s next?

2) Listen. Like Really Listen.

Let’s be real, connecting with your kid isn’t simple like a checklist of questions. It helps you get started but engaging in the conversation will build trust between you two. Remember the last time you felt ignored after sharing something hard? It stung, right? Don’t do that to your kid.

Instead…

  • Set the tone with your tone of voice. Speak to your kid in a calm and gentle way, assuring them with more than words that they are safe to talk about hard things with you.
  • Ask thoughtful follow-up questions as necessary. It’s all about striking the right balance between an interrogation and a casual, one-off conversation because last thing you want your kid to feel is overpowered or dismissed.
  • Repeat their words back to them. Avoid the pitfall of missed communication (especially if they’ve shared something surprising) by simply stating their words again and confirming that you understood them correctly.
  • Finish off the conversation with words of support, no matter how well YOU feel it went. Remember. We just agreed it stings leaving a discussion feeling ignored or misunderstood. Don’t discourage your kid by ending on a tone of frustration or panic because they WILL pick up on this and they will NOT want to have a hard conversation again.

Alright, now you’ve chatted with your kid and you’ve encouraged real conversations with them. What next?

3) Take notes.

Time to whip out a blank journal and get to work. Let’s be honest, unless you have a perfect memory, time makes everything fuzzy. Are those groceries in the fridge two weeks old or three? We have no idea. Do you really want to risk that when having a hard conversation with your kid? Probably not.

After every conversation…

  • Write down the exact question you asked and your kid’s response (verbatim if you can!). Track the follow-up questions you asked and the answers you got. This helps make every conversation meaningful because you’ll ask new questions each time you chat with your kid.
  • Score your kid’s response. It can be an emoji, an adjective, a number, or anything you want. Whatever you settle on, make it your universal system after every conversation.
  • Track the trends. They’re going to have rough weeks. But, did that just line up with a big test? Or, is your kid constantly expressing feelings of hopelessness, lack of excitement for the future, or difficulty resting?

Let this information guide you. Life will always take your kid through ups and downs; that’s not a sign of mental illness. Instead, watch for trends that are always down, indicating that your kid is always feeling hopeless, sad, anxious, or restless. These are the early markers of a potential anxiety disorder. Armed with the data you’ve collected, you can be the partner your kid needs in their mental health journey and decide together what next steps to take.

Now, I know it’s a lot of work.

Yet, I promise you, it’s worth it.

Early detection and treatment of a mental illness can save years of suffering and heartache.

Trust me, I wish that was my story. But, now that you know, maybe that can be your kid’s.

- Melynn, Cyber Dive Digital Marketing Coordinator

BONUS TIP:

4) Unlock unparalleled insight with the Aqua One’s Mental Health Check.

You might ask, how does an Aqua One help you better gauge your kid’s emotional state?

The Mental Health Check empowers you to proactively check on your child’s emotional wellbeing as they use their Aqua One by:

  • interrupting their scroll
  • asking profound questions
  • revealing snapshots of your kid’s mood in real-time

Simply put, it’s one of the most powerful tools to unlock your kid’s emotional health.

Combine the information you covered in the steps above and the data in your Parent Dashboard to watch for negative trends, indicating that your kid is always feeling hopeless, sad, anxious, or restless. Armed with this knowledge, you can partner with your kid in their mental health journey and decide together what next steps to take.

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